4th industrial revolution is a scam

What is the 4th Industrial revolution?

It is said to be the confluence or a merging of technologies such as AI, Big Data, Robotics, and IoT and their cumulative impact on the economy and society.

Where does it come from?

Klaus Schwab, the founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) first popularized the term in 2016 in the world economic forum in Davos. He claims that the current technological amount to the merging between biology and technology and therefore a new “Industrial Revolution” .

Why is it so popular?

Davos. Many people in history always try to understand the impact of technological innovation on the economy and social changes, Academics, and Economists always come with theories to describe the relationship that exists between technology and socio-economic changes, this one is no different. What lifts Klaus’s theory from purely an intellectual concept is because of his influence as the chairman of the WEF. Often what gets discussed in Davos has the power to shape the public policy of governments and set the trend for businesses.

Why is the 4th industrial revolution a scam?

What do you mean by revolution or industrial revolution? Does this refer to social change, economic change, technological change, scientific change or all of the above? Also, most people don’t even know what the first, second or even third industrial revolution.

Using the standard of previous industrial revolutions, we can clearly see that for something to be classified as an industrial revolution we need to look primarily at 4 things which are; Quantum of technological or scientific change, Impact on productivity, Impact on social and living standards and also the Time frame.

First industrial revolution 18th 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840

Quantum of technological or scientific change

Inspired by work of scientists like Isaac Newton, the first industrial revolution brought new inventions such as the steam engine which fundamentally changed work. A quantum change from hand production methods to machines like the Spinning Jenny for weaving. The steam engine used for pumping, used for transportation railway, used in manufacturing to operate lathes and mills.

Impact on productivity

  • The first formation of large industrial factories, the textile industry saw huge change in productivity.
  • Incomes increase significantly.
  • Transformation of urban cities to big industrial cities.
  • The boom in the mining sector.
  • Slave trade flourishes.
  • The building of large infrastructure and transport networks.

Impact on social and living standards

  • Incomes increase significantly.
  • Transformation of urban cities to big industrial cities.
  • Life expectancy increased.
  • Increased population.
  • Increased literacy.
  • Urbanization.
  • Impact on family life and women.

Time frame

100 years

Second industrial revolution 1870 to 1900

Quantum of technological or scientific change

The invention of the internal combustion engine and electricity were quantum leaps in technological innovation. Because of the internal combustion engine, we had cars, boats, we moved away from horses and walking for transportation, petrol industry boom. Because of electricity we had lights, and extension of daylight.

Impact on productivity

  • Large scale production, booming steel industry, an extension of daylight, night shift in factories.
  • Ford system of production and division of labor.

Impact on social and living standards

  • Entertainment.
  • Personal transportation.
  • Development of roads.
  • Power lines.

Time frame

60 years and its effects last even today.

Third industrial revolution 1969 or 1960 till present

Quantum of technological or scientific change

The invention of the computer, internet, and widespread IT infrastructure. The race to make things smaller, faster and efficient (Moore law), improved automation.

Impact on productivity

  • Borderless businesses.
  • Access to information relatively easy.

Impact on social and living standards

  • Improved education
  • Improved democracies
  • Change in consumption and distribution of media
  • Privacy becomes limited and at a premium

Time frame

60 years and it’s effects last even today

4th Industrial revolution

The technology that characterizes the 4th industrial revolution is merely just technology innovation which happens all the time. Remember, technology refers to the collection of skills, processes, and methods used in the production of goods and services (e.g farming, printing, mining, programming etc). Innovation implies change, transformation and introduction of something new.  AI, Big Data and Robotics, is not fundamentally new technology it’s merely innovation from previous technology iterations. This is different from the steam engine, electricity, and the internet which were all fundamentally new technologies, and characterized the industrial revolution.

Now let’s look at the technology that is said to revolutionalize our society.

Robots and automation

Robotics is not a new field it has been around for the past 100 years, it just gets better every year with a direct correlation with improvements in electronics and computing power. Remember all a robot is, is a programmable machine that can automate tasks and has some level of AI however it doesn’t need to have AI to be a robot.

Robots are still far from replacing human beings, at work or at home. Robots can not do simple tasks like changing a baby diaper that humans beings do so naturally, it is very difficult to get robots to do. Robots don’t have a lot of practical applications outside industrial use just like it has been the past 50 years.  

Artificial intelligence (AI)

The biggest fear amongst society relating to AI is singularity, the point where computers surpass human intelligence and AI is seemingly heading there. This brings us to an interesting question we need to explore as humans, “What is intelligence, really?” Is it memory, is its calculations? If that’s the case computers are already better than us. But if it’s emotional intelligence or spirituality, the AI will never surpass human beings for a simple principle that we humans beings are flawed individually and we will naturally translate that to the machine and the AI will also be limited.

AI is not a new field as well, it’s application is also limited in the digital domain, how do we make AI drugs? Drugs that based on your body type or conditions it behaves differently? AI in food?, AI in materials? Materials that evolve? Therefore as it is now, AI is limited to the digital domain. 

Machine learning is also largely dependent on the information it uses for learning, and since the information available is not accurate we can’t expect the AI to be more accurate

AI will not replace jobs in the conventional sense instead it will enhance the productivity of some jobs, for example, Autocorrect which is found on many devices cannot replace a proofreader, it only helps the proofreader improve their productivity by removing redundant tasks of looking through a dictionary. But that’s not only unique to AI, but all technology also improves human being’s efficiency in one way or another. A power drill and vacuum cleaner,  does it replace people or improve people’s productivity? If AI will replace jobs, it won’t because it is fundamentally disruptive but it will simply be because of the nature of technology innovation. 

Big Data

Big data methods and processes have been around for centuries, it’s called statistics! What happened though, the past few decades is that large amounts of data could now be easily stored, managed, collected, and analyzed with relative ease. Big Data is not new, it’s been used by researchers, mathematicians, businesses, and governments for decades now.

The Big Data’s real value is the analysis and interpretation of the data and the more data you have the more error you can make especially natural occurring phenomena like the weather. It is still very difficult to predict the next hurricane accurately, even more, difficult to predict the next financial crises? Big data works for defined variables that do not change much and can be compared to some metrics, which limits the technology to mostly machine-like systems. It’s easy to monitor website clicks, location, electronic devices, and tire pressure but how do you collect data in food?

Another challenge with Big Data is that it requires expert knowledge to collect the right information and interpret it in the correct way. When ice cream sales increase, the number of shark attacks also increases in the beach areas, if ice creams sales drop will that also reduce the number of shark deaths? Are those two related? These are the kind of questions that come with Big Data.

Big Data is also threatened by the fact that going forward it might be difficult to collect data in the first place due to privacy protection and human rights strengthened. Today collecting personal information is not so difficult but we slowly approaching the point where personal information privacy will be a human right.

Internet of things

This is an interesting technology as it works at the intersection of many technologies that already exist such as the internet and electronics. This technology also has many limitations such as the need to be connected to the internet, and also the product needs to have some electronics.

Internet penetration is still very low, slow and also very costly.

The applications are also very limited to industrial use, monitoring machine performance, and tracking down efficiencies, collecting of data is still very challenging. There is growing popularity of smartwatches, which can monitor your health or sense when in danger but all those products rely on variables that are extremely varying and inaccurate.

The internet of things is the least harmful to society and at the same time it is the one highly unlikely to realise its full potential. So it will not bring out about much disruption.

Who benefits from this hoax? And who is the victim?

Developed countries stand to benefit more than developing countries like South Africa (Freelance, driverless cars, replacements of semi-skilled workers, robotics designed and built in Europe or America)

Let’s not be quick to forget what fueled the industrial revolution in the West and Europe was the slave trade. Africa just like other developing countries was seen merely as a source for raw materials and this hasn’t changed. So we need to tread with caution so that we don’ become exploited.

What are the possible ways we can be exploited?

Consumption

The more Africans become connected to the internet the more content the developed countries can sell to Africans at a cheaper price with better quality, like Netflix or educational content like Udemy. Imagine someone teaching you a course online that is equivalent to a diploma or degree and it is less than the price it costs to register for a college in South Africa. Not only that the course is also 10X better than your local one, in every way. They can do that because instead of having 200 students they have 2 million students.

Services

What’s going to happen when it will be cheaper to use services outsourced from outside the country than locally, to get an accountant or lawyer on the internet? Uber-like businesses? They make use of local resources but don’t bring direct investment instead they extract a lot of value from us. This is only possible if we all connected to the internet.

Robots

These robots that we are so eager to embrace where are they going to be manufactured? Who is going to hold the intellectual property rights for those? We all know the biggest potential for implementing robotics is in Africa to replace semi-skilled, and unskilled labors. Let us also not be naïve t think that is going to open up other opportunities in other sectors, what are we going to do, teach miners how to code? Good luck!

Fourth industrial revolution widens the inequality gap and those who have more stand a chance to exponential have more.

Just like developed countries will benefit more from the 4th industrial revolution, businesses and individuals who are already privileged to have access to these technologies will benefit more, further increasing the economic inequality in the country. The kids who grow up with computers and the internet stand a 10X better chance of succeeding in this economy than those without access to that, businesses that already have a huge market share online like Takealot or Amazon will only get bigger and more monopolistic.

Consultants will not miss an opportunity to persuade and lure unwitting clients into investing money on new products that will keep them ahead of the game.

Disruption. “Change now or risk your business being disrupted by the 4IR”, that is the rhetoric coming from business consultants. Almost every farmer I know has been approached at least one by startup wanting to help them improve their farming with a drone, and all of them are fed up with listening to theses pitches that over-promise but under-deliver. Small, and medium-sized businesses are tricked into buying services and goods they don’t really need in order to overcome their fear of being disrupted. In South Africa 2019, offline marketing still delivers a far greater rate of return on investment than online, so what’s the hype about digital marketing? Let’s not even talk about online stores in South Africa, there are very few if any that make a real profit trading exclusively online. Yet we are being sold the idea that if we are not online then we don’t have a business.

What do we need to do?

What we need to realize is that Africa has real problems that won’t be fixed by an app. What we still need to do is find solutions to the problems we all know very well such as reducing poverty, improving health care and education. What we are currently doing is buying new tools, and asking ourselves how do we solve our problems using the tools. You can’t solve education problems by creating a competition that asks contestants to build an app that can solve early childhood learning or using one of the 4IR technologies. Yet, that is exactly what we are doing. What we need to do is to apply our minds and come up with creative solutions, only then can we look for tools to implement the solution.

The problems currently I believe we should be focusing on; Education, Electricity and power, food security, and infrastructure. If we take away the hype of the 4IR and focus on these key areas I believe we stand a better chance to improve our economy.

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